ACLU Worker Arrested For Observing Police
by Adam Lynch
Saturday, Oct. 20, 2007 at 11:46 AM
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Police arrested Brent Cox, ACLU of Mississippi Public Education Coordinator, for monitoring a police encounter. Police told Cox that he could not observe the encounter, and when Cox asked for their names and badge numbers, the police arrested him.
Police arrested ACLU Field Coordinator Brent Cox for surveying a police interdiction last month, though Cox said he was fulfilling his constitutional duty in observing the activity.
Charges listed on the Sept. 14 Jackson Police Department arrest docket identify the reason for Cox’ arrest as “disobeying a police officer” and “interfering with the duties of a police officer.” Cox said he only watched the altercation, took notes and asked the participating police officers for their badge numbers. Officer William Bright was the arresting officer, according to the city’s arrest docket.
“There’s a common practice around the country, called ‘cop watch.’ … It’s a way to ensure police accountability, that rights aren’t being violated and that good police policy is in place and being followed,” Cox said.
Cox noticed two police officers detaining a man and woman around 4 p.m. in the parking lot outside the Rainbow Whole Foods Co-op Grocery on Old Canton Road. Cox said the female officer, after noticing his interest—and notepad—kept telling him to get back, ushering him away from the scene until he was more than 60 feet away from the interdiction, too far to either see or hear the event. The same officer ignored other customers passing by the same scene at closer range.
“She targeted me specifically because she didn’t want me observing what was going on,” Cox said.
After the interdiction, Cox approached the officers again, asking for identification. The ACLU worker said both officers refused to give their identification numbers, counter to municipal policy. The female officer even covered her badge.
Another officer pulled up, and eventually one of the officers told Cox that he was being arrested for “interfering with a police investigation.”
Cox, who has been trained in police scene observation, said police did not read him his Miranda rights at any point during the arrest, emptying his pockets or while guiding him to the patrol car.
Cox sat in the county jail in Raymond for 14 hours before getting his phone call and arranging his $2,500 bond.
“Three shifts of guards passed before I was allowed to make a phone call. I was there with 30 guys, and I have to ask, ‘why.’” Cox said. “It’s morally obscene to lock people up for 14 hours. Their families have no idea where they are, or they could lose their jobs.”
Mississippi ACLU Executive Director Nsombi Lambright said the group panicked when Cox “vanished for the whole night.”
“We didn’t hear from him. We had a witness who saw his arrest, but anything could have happened to him after that. Nobody called us, and nobody (at JPD) had any answers,” Lambright said, adding that the ACLU now classifies Jackson police as “aggressive” to onlookers and restricts members from overtly observing them.
JPD spokesman Commander Lee Vance said he did not know enough about the incident to speculate on the legality of it.
“Not being out there, I don’t know how the circumstances unfurled that … prompted them to arrest. (I’m) not saying it was legitimate or not—I’m just saying that it’s hard for me to say something about something that I don’t have any personal knowledge of,” Vance said.
Kristy L. Bennett is a Byrd-Silverman legal fellow with the Mississippi ACLU. Bennett said the city has likely violated at least two constitutional rights in arresting Cox.
“We believe the officers violated his First Amendment right in refusing him his right to observe. This is a free speech issue. … We also think they could have possibly violated his Fourth Amendment right through the unlawful seizure of his person,” Bennett said.
The ACLU filed an Internal Affairs complaint last month, and is requesting a disposition of the incident. The ACLU plans to make no plea at Cox’s Nov. 15 arraignment, but will ask the city to dismiss the charges.
Mississippi School of Law professor Matt Steffey said the ACLU will likely get the charges dropped, but said the organization was facing an uphill battle in any suit proving constitutional violations.
“If you want the city to be liable, you have to show that this behavior was a city policy. If you want to hold the individual officers responsible, you have to show that they arrested him under circumstances they knew to be without probable cause. … These are expensive, difficult cases to make. Even police brutality cases, with victims showing egregious harm, are expensive, difficult cases,” Steffey said.
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||Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012 at 11:49 PM
|Follow-up: I was acquitted
||Thursday, Apr. 30, 2009 at 1:23 PM
|Have you contacted the ACLU?
||Friday, Nov. 09, 2007 at 5:59 PM
|As many of you know
||Tuesday, Nov. 06, 2007 at 3:28 AM
||Sunday, Nov. 04, 2007 at 5:27 AM
|Thank you for posting this
||Friday, Oct. 26, 2007 at 12:27 PM